There are lingering reminders, though, of a turbulent past not yet reconciled.
On a trip last week to a complex housing another of Maos Yanan residences, a visitor noticed a jumble of old statuary in a courtyard, apparently assembled for a future exhibit. There was a robed man with his head missing. Asked what happened to the head, a staff member at the front office said in a disinterested voice that she thought it had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution Maos brutal campaign launched in the 1960s to stamp out counterrevolutionary culture and persons, which left millions dead, injured or otherwise traumatized.
With the fervor of Maoism now mostly gone and traditional Chinese culture revived only in part, against a backdrop of a ruling party seen as wildly corrupt, it seemed a fitting metaphor.
In the run-up to this years party congress, when a new national leadership will be announced, there have been signs of disagreement about whether or to what extent political and social change should be pursued. An essay written by a senior editor of a newspaper at the Central Party School, which trains rising officials, recently listed 10 problems facing the country, using an adjective that can mean big or great.
The ideology established during the revolutionary era has already become bankrupt, wrote Deng Yuwen, whose treatise was posted to a business magazines website before being deleted.
Using language that was surprisingly blunt at turns, Deng described shortcomings with Chinas economic model, the lack of a robust middle class, a steep rural-urban divide and the lack of political reform. Although much has been accomplished in the past decade, Deng said, there are even more problems than achievements.
That critique comes as China deals with political events not seen in decades. The career of an official long thought to enjoy a solid chance at a seat on the Standing Committee, Bo Xilai, imploded after his former police chief ran off to a U.S. consulate in February and reportedly said that Bos wife had murdered a British businessman. Bos wife last month was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve and Bo, while not yet formally charged, hasnt been seen since March.
Then a lengthy article in a Hong Kong newspaper earlier this month asserted that Ling Jihua, a close ally of President Hu Jintao, was demoted because of efforts to cover up his sons death in a March car accident. At the time of his passing, Lings son was said to be driving a black Ferrari and in the company of two women one of whom was allegedly naked and the other in a state of semi-undress.
And making things cloudier still, the man widely presumed to be Chinas next leader just went missing from public view for two weeks. There were rampant rumors of health problems, from a strained back to a heart attack, and factional infighting. After canceling several meetings with foreign delegations, Vice President Xi Jinping resurfaced on Saturday at an agricultural university event in Beijing with no explanation for his absence.
From downtown Yanan, as elsewhere, the details of the inner workings of Beijing are not clear. But at his familys grocery one recent evening, a man surnamed Liu sat behind the counter and described a local ruling culture greased by vice.
The heads of construction teams have to give money to officials, no one can change this, said Liu, whose full name is being withheld because he still works in those officials jurisdiction. Theres corruption from the high levels to low levels.
Gesturing toward the hotels down the street, Liu said they were built on what used to be his village. He, his relatives and others got almost no compensation when their property was torn down, but the officials have millions of yuan, said Liu, a man in his late 40s with a closely-cropped mustache who was wearing black jeans and a dark windbreaker.
Expensive cars regularly park between the Liu family shop and places like the Roma Holiday. That building houses a karaoke club, spa and hotel, a combination that often hints at paid female companionship.
In addition to Range Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes, a stroll in the area passed two black Audi A8s, a favorite of Chinese officials that cost more than $100,000, with no license plates and a third with a plate belonging to the Peoples Liberation Army.
Although one of his children recently graduated from university, and his second is a year away from finishing, making him both proud and hopeful about the future, Liu said the overall unfairness of the system is grating.
If old Mao were alive, he said, then these corrupt officials would be hanged to death.